Three Lousy Numbers

My teaching career began in Utah, at a high school tucked smack in the middle of Salt Lake City. I loved my time there, and I still read the Deseret News online most days. I scan headlines, looking for familiar names and faces.

The past two weeks, the Deseret News has compiled a list of the 50 best- and worst-performing high schools, according to the state assessments they use. I flipped through the lists to see where my first high school landed. (It was on neither list.)

A couple of observations about the worst-performing list. 

  • Language Arts scores aren’t dismal. As an English teacher, that makes me feel good.
  • Math scores are dismal. Horrifyingly dismal. So dismal that I want to see the exam to see what math skills this Utah test deems essential.
  • Science scores are all over the place–at some schools, they’re decent, at others, they are on par with math. 
  • Many of the photos used show students at sporting events or other activities. Oh, America…where sports are king even in the face of horrible test scores… (Read this great description of what school is like in France, for example.)
  • The school that performed the worst? A school in Ogden where the majority of the students are white. In fact, most of the school districts–except for those on Native American Reservations–are predominately white. 

A couple of observations about the best performing list.

  • Language Arts scores aren’t much better than those on the worst-performing list.
  • Math scores are still pretty awful, but typically at least 20% higher.
  • Science scores again are all over the place.
  • The majority of the photos on this list are classroom oriented. There are a couple of sports shots here and there, but not nearly with the frequency of the other list. Visual rhetoric, anyone?
  • The top two schools appear to be charters. That said, plenty of other charter schools were much lower on this list, with even a couple of the other list.

The local paper here hasn’t officially put together this slick of a story. But that’s just it–it’s a slick story.

It’s a snapshot of a high school reduced to three test scores. It doesn’t tell the story of the teacher who stays late to work with students, or the teacher who buys books for her students, or the student who improves 30% on one of these ridiculous tests but still fails it. It doesn’t tell the story of the teacher who lies awake at night NOT worrying about how her students will do on the tests, but instead worries about Sally, who is homeless, or Tom, whose dad is dying, or Frances and Kelly who used to be best friends but are now fighting over something as silly as a boy. 

It’s that time of year when test scores start hitting the papers, and it’s really easy to judge principals, teachers, and students on three lousy numbers. 

Please don’t.

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